For a satisfying movie experience, ‘Lawless’ is in order

From left: Jason Clarke, Tom Hardy and Shia LaBeouf star in the Pro­hib­i­tion-era drama ‘Law­less.’


Law­less is one of those peri­od pieces — one with old-time gang­sters with a west­ern fla­vor — where the bad guys (the law­break­ing boot­leg­gers) are the ones to root for and the sup­posed good guys (the cops) are the vil­lains. It’s styl­ist­ic­ally filmed from dir­ect­or John Hill­coat (The Road, The Pro­pos­i­tion) and evokes memor­ies from an era of days gone by.

Law­less is based on the true story of the Bon­dur­ant broth­ers, Howard (Jason Clarke), For­rest (Tom Hardy) and Jack (Shia LaBeouf), who live in the moun­tains of Frank­lin County, Va. The fam­ily is thought to be some­what in­vin­cible be­cause Howard went off to war but re­turned home alive, and For­rest beat an al­most deadly bout of the Span­ish Flu that killed his par­ents. Jack is the young­est and has yet to be tested.

The rur­al area is knee-deep in poverty from the De­pres­sion, but the Bon­dur­ants have built a thriv­ing loc­al busi­ness — boot­leg­ging moon­shine. The only prob­lem is that Pro­hib­i­tion is in ef­fect, and their boom­ing busi­ness is il­leg­al.

Still, all is well un­til cor­rupt deputy Charlie Rakes (Guy Pearce) comes to town from the big city de­mand­ing a little quid pro quo or else he’ll (per­man­ently) shut them down. Most of the loc­al folk com­ply, but the Bon­dur­ants are firm in their res­ist­ance, thus lead­ing to a knock down, drag-em-out battle for con­trol.

The 1930s De­pres­sion-era, rur­al Vir­gin­ia set­ting felt au­then­t­ic and ap­pro­pri­ately un­glam­or­ous, though at one point LaBeouf refers to a car as be­ing “souped up,” and I’m not quite sure how long that ex­pres­sion has been around, but I’m think­ing it’s ter­min­o­logy.

The movie is rated R and for good reas­on. There are many vi­ol­ent killings, beat­ings and throat slit­tings. It was so un­set­tling that I even had to look away from the screen a few times. I did ap­pre­ci­ate, however, that since the vi­ol­ence served a pur­pose, it wasn’t watered down to ap­peal to a broad­er audi­ence.

LaBeouf def­in­itely isn’t at the top of my list of fa­vor­ite act­ors, es­pe­cially after his sub­par Trans­formers movies (did we really need three of them?), the for­get­table fourth In­di­ana Jones movie and some of his minor brushes with the law, but I was some­what im­pressed by his per­form­ance. The smarmi­ness and in­sin­cer­ity I’ve felt from him in past roles seemed to be gone and he phys­ic­ally and emo­tion­ally trans­formed in­to his char­ac­ter quite well.

Hardy must have a knack for speak­ing un­in­tel­li­gibly, but at least I could un­der­stand him slightly bet­ter than his Bane char­ac­ter from The Dark Knight Rises. His char­ac­ter For­rest didn’t say much, but when he spoke, he al­most al­ways made an im­pact.

Pearce was an ex­cel­lent vil­lain. His char­ac­ter was com­pletely despic­able, and he played it ex­pertly.

The es­tro­gen com­pon­ent to the film was filled by Jes­sica Chas­tain, who played For­rest’s love in­terest, Mag­gie, and Mia Wasikowska as Jack’s love in­terest, Ber­tha (for some reas­on, I don’t im­age young, slender wo­men be­ing named Ber­tha).

Law­less wasn’t a movie that I was all that ex­cited for or even an­ti­cip­at­ing pri­or to its re­lease, and while it had some slow parts, I ul­ti­mately found it to be a sat­is­fy­ing view­ing ex­per­i­ence. ••

Movie Grade: B

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